In spite of having practically memorized the dialogue, it wasn’t until I was born again that I understood the significance of Melanie Wilkes being Christian. Yet there it was: Melanie was always kind, compassionate, faithful, loving – the epitome of Christian virtue. How wonderful to have her goodness on such prominent display in this fallen world, with non-believers always on high alert for hypocrisy in the church.
But I've now realized that another GWTW character may have telegraphed, in just a few words, something even more important than goodness.
Surprisingly, that character was Rhett Butler – surely no Christian, given his flagrant disregard of the commands of Christ.
Rhett’s critical theological insight was tucked into the movie’s last scene. You may remember it: Having proclaimed her long-standing but just-discovered love for him, Scarlett O’Hara was tearfully expressing her regret over the course of their lives together. He responded, “My darling, you’re such a child. You think by saying ‘I’m sorry,’ all the past can be corrected.” (See the clip here.)
Consider this comment in light of the gospel.
According to the word of God, Christ suffered and died on the cross to pay the penalty for the world’s sin. To avail ourselves personally of His payment and be ensured of a heavenly forever after, we need to do two things:
- Repent – i.e., to acknowledge that sin is what God says it is, not what we like to think it is; to sorrowfully seek His forgiveness for our personal sin; and to turn from it deliberately, if not perfectly. (See, for example, Luke 13:3 and Acts 3:19.)
- Trust in Christ to have paid for our sin in full on the cross. We cannot pay for even one sin ourselves, so we must give up trying to earn heaven and rely entirely on His finished work. (See, e.g., Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Corinthians 5:21.)
Scarlett did indeed say she was sorry – very, very sorry, in fact. But did she repent of her behavior? Or did she simply make excuses for it?
Now, obviously Rhett was not meant to be even a poor imitation of God. Even if Scarlett had truly repented and sought his forgiveness, he was clearly, and literally, on his way out the door. His patience and love for her had evaporated.
Fortunately for us, God’s patience never runs out, and His love never dies. If, before we breathe our last, we truly repent and trust in Christ to have paid our sin debt in full, we will be clothed in His righteousness and welcomed into heaven for all eternity.
But if Scarlett’s approach is all we can offer Him on judgment day – if the best we can do is say we’re sorry and make excuses for our sin – we will be paying its penalty for all eternity. And that will be true even if we cloak our regrets and excuses in good works and sacraments. These are not the things that save us; only the blood of Christ can do that, and we can take advantage of that only by repenting and trusting in Him.
Have you done so yet? If not, don’t wait; tomorrow will indeed be “another day,” but are you certain you’ll live to see it?